A look at the demands black U.Va. students have been making since 1987

Sullivan, Apprey explain how University will tackle issues of black student enrollment, faculty diversity

Black students, faculty and alumni at the University have released several documents over the years outlining a series of objectives and recommendations intended to achieve a higher degree of racial diversity at the University.

These documents include “An Audacious Faith” released in June 1987, “Audacious Faith II,” released in 2007, and “Towards a Better University,” released in April 2015.

A long history of recommendations and demands

“An Audacious Faith: Report on the Task-Force on Afro-American Affairs” is the first document to comprehensively outline strategic objectives and recommendations intended to increase the degree of diversity and inclusion at the University. The report was conducted under former University President Robert O’Neil and published in June 1987.

“An Audacious Faith” primarily targeted the recruitment and retention of black faculty and students as well as the expansion of academic services offered to minority students. It also addressed raising communication and consciousness in the University community, and includes more than 60 pages of exhibits and appendices on which the requests were founded.

“An Audacious Faith” was followed by “Audacious Faith II,” written by a group of black University students in 2007.

“Audacious Faith II” presented four main goals for a more inclusive University. These goals included elevating the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies to departmental status, which would allow for full funding and an expanded faculty; increasing the number of black faculty and graduate students; providing appropriate funding and support of the Office of African American Affairs; and enhancing the University’s commitment to public service to the city of Charlottesville. The last goal primarily sought benefits for employees of the University and mentorship and education programs for the black youth of Charlottesville.

In response to College student Martese Johnson’s arrest in March 2015, members of the Black Student Alliance released a document titled “Towards a Better University” in April 2015. The document was written with consultation from the Batten School and with the endorsement of 29 other student groups.

BSA President Aryn Frazier, a third-year College student, said “Towards a Better University” was intended to incorporate requests for increasing the black faculty and student yield as well as to propose the creation a “Culture of Truth,” a play on the University’s “Community of Trust.”

“You have to start being honest about U.Va’s history, U.Va’s present, and you also have to be honest about the world in which we live,” Frazier said. “You can’t purport to create world-class global citizens who don’t know anything about the black, brown and tan peoples of the world who make up the majority of it.”

Frazier said “Towards a Better University” was intended to target the disproportionate representation of black students and faculty at the University. Although Virginia’s African-American population is 19.7 percent, African-American students comprise only 6.1 percent of the University population. The number of African-American faculty members is even lower, with black faculty members accounting for only 4.05 percent of University faculty.

The University has said that the low number of black students enrolled can be partially attributed to how it collects demographic information. In 2009, new federal guidelines allowed students to select more than one race on forms. The University now categorizes students who do so as “Multi-Racial American.”

Frazier said that to recruit more black students, the University must make institutional adjustments, such as hiring a more diverse faculty and making diversity a part of the University curriculum.

“If you bring more black students to Grounds, but they don’t have any spaces to call their own and they don’t have any professors in their fields who look like them or come from a similar background, if they don’t have the classes available to them outside of African-American Studies, or that major, then you’re not fixing the problem. You’re just making more black students feel like they don’t belong at U.Va.,” Frazier said.

What is the University doing now?

Maurice Apprey, dean of the Office of African-American Affairs, said the demands in “An Audacious Faith” were answered with the creation of the Office of Diversity and Equity as well as the office of graduate diversity programs, which commits itself to “the identification, retention, mentoring, and graduation of a highly talented and diverse graduate student population.”

Apprey calls the University “head and shoulders above its peer institutions” when it comes to graduation rates for black students, graduating 86 percent of its black students, according to data from August 2015.

University President Teresa Sullivan told The Cavalier Daily about two new approaches to hiring faculty that will further enhance the diversity of the University’s faculty. One strategy is “cluster hiring,” in which a group of faculty members with overlapping work is sought out, rather than just an individual faculty member.

Sullivan referred to cluster hires “as one opportunity for bringing people here who might not otherwise be able to work together and who, we hope, would work in areas that would help us diversify the curriculum and diversify the faculty.”

The other are called target of opportunity hires, a strategy deans can employ if they have a particular faculty member that they’d like to bring to the University for a particular reason.

“We all see diversifying the faculty as something important we want to do, now we have money that we can put behind it and some new strategies we haven’t been able to use before, and we think that’s a prerequisite,” Sullivan said. “We’re more likely to diversify the student body as well as the faculty if we start with the faculty piece.”

Sullivan said one of the most significant challenges the University faces in diversifying its student population is that far less African American students enroll in the University than are admitted.

“We have more African-American applicants than any other university in the top 25, and we admit more than any other school in the top 25,” Sullivan said. “Our problem is, how do we get more of them to accept their offer of admission here.”

Sullivan said legal limitations play a significant role in the initiatives the University is able implement towards increasing diversity, namely within the processes of admissions, administering financial aid and awarding scholarships.

One limitation is that the University cannot offer race-based scholarship programs due to a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision eliminating scholarships offered to students exclusively based on race, Sullivan said.

“It’s not a level playing field, so we have a harder time competing,” Sullivan said. “We know we lose students who don’t need need-based financial aid, but who would like to have [an academic] scholarship.”

The University offers $55 million in need-based aid out of the operating budget, Sullivan said. Sullivan has allocated $100,000 for the “Virginia 80 program” for the next two years, which seeks to target 80 Virginia high schools with the highest percentage of students qualified for free or reduced-price lunches in order to try to increase the number of low-income Virginia applicants.

“That’s the biggest chunk of our undergraduates, and is the most logical place to start,” Sullivan said.

Apprey cited difficulties in communicating between the various black student CIOs and their resource offices.

“Leadership has to be distributed. It cannot be at the hands of one CIO,” Apprey said. “What is needed is a heterogeneity of all voices, rather than homogeneity. We will all profit from more voices.”

Apprey said the formation of the Black Presidents’ Council, a council that includes black leaders from a range of different CIOs in a single forum to discuss issues, will play an important role in eliminating these communication difficulties.

“We need more conversation,” Apprey said. “It will be the solution to the dispersal of spheres of influence among student leaders.”

The road ahead

Frazier said outcomes reflect the University’s priorities, and some results may take longer than others.

“I think in March, or April, we might have a better view of if some of these [objectives], for example faculty recruitment, have been successful. I think some things are a longer timeline,” Frazier said. “I think others, there is just not much political will and there’s always an excuse that can be found and to me that translates into a lack of desire to really change it.”

Noting that University administration reports to the Board of Visitors on a regular basis concerning issues of diversity, and plans to submit a report in February, Sullivan said there is not a lack of desire to change University demographics and culture.

Sullivan also said the Provost has told all the deans that they are responsible for producing a diversity plan for their school by the end of the upcoming spring 2016 semester.

“I don’t think it’s a lack of will, and I don’t think it’s a lack of accountability,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said diversity is an important aspect of the education that takes place at the University.

“Nobody wants to go to an employer and say, ‘Hire me, I went to a completely homogeneous college.’ No employer is going to think that’s a good thing,” Sullivan said. “It doesn’t prepare you to live in 21st century America, either. Appreciating and understanding diversity right now is probably as important as it’s ever been.”

Correction: This article previously incorrectly stated that Sullivan cited a forced circuit court decision. She cited a decision from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

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